...this June 6th to remember what it means to be a progressive Democrat. What's possible. The nature of courage, and the necessity of hope.
Today is the 46th anniversary of an event that changed everything in American history -- the death of Robert F. Kennedy. He died at 1:44 a.m. PDT June 6, 1968 the day after he won the California presidential primary for the Democratic nomination for President.
I was 16 years old in 1968. I've been a Democrat all my life, and an amateur historian as well. I've spent many hours pondering RFK. One of my favorite books -- by far the best biography -- is "Robert Kennedy -- His Life" by Evan Thomas. Please take a moment and consider just what a turning point this was, how history might have been different had he lived.
Here's how I think of RFK in history. Yes, I'm postulating...but tell me if what I say resonates with your take on 'what might have been.'
• In November of 1968, Richard Nixon beats a very weak candidate, Hubert Humphrey, by 1/10th of 1 point. If RFK lives, he gets the Democratic nomination and mops the floor with Nixon. RFK becomes President.
• No Nixon, no "Southern Strategy" to strip white blue collar voters from the Democratic Party. Ponder this -- two pallbearers at the RFK funeral were Richard Daley and Tom Hayden. Only RFK could hold the entire New Deal coalition together. The "fracturing of America" so brilliantly described in Rick Pearlstein's "Nixonland" doesn't happen.
• No Nixon, no 6 more years of the Vietnam War. I believe RFK would have ended the war a quickly as possible. 20+ thousand Americans don't die in Southeast Asia. The war doesn't continue to tear the country apart. The healing begins sooner rather than later.
• No Nixon, no Watergate -- another divisive catastrophe for America. RFK most likely serves for 8 years. If RFK ends the war in Vietnam and holds the New Deal coalition together, guess what? NO REAGAN. No Reagan, no 'resurgent right'...and neither Bush gets elected...
Yes, a lot of ifs, but...the most disheartening event of my civic life was the Nixon Presidency -- specifically the way Nixon used the courageous advances in Civil Rights under LBJ to deliberately split the country in two for naked political gain, encouraging one half -- older, whiter, blue collar, Southern/Western -- to hate on the other half. Just about every toxic element of American politics today comes from that moment. What started with Nixon amplified under Reagan and created the opening for callow demagogues like New Gingrich to exploit the politics of hatred and division.
No RFK assassination, No Nixon, No Reagan, No repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, No Rush Limbaugh, No Fox News...you can string this out as far as you want. My point is that if the first domino doesn't fall, the rest don't fall either.
I've read all the biographies of RFK, and every history of the 1960's. What's most important about RFK is that -- like Lincoln -- a key to his character is that he CHANGED. Early in life, he was his brother's "enforcer." He "crossed the line" many times as JFK's Attorney General...and he also provided the counsel to his brother that prevented the United States from becoming a dust bunny during the Cuban Missile Crisis. After his brother's assassination, he withdrew from public life. He underwent a profound change, emerging with the same toughness but putting that toughness to work for progressive causes -- civil rights, farmworker rights, the elimination of poverty, and an end to the war in Vietnam.
Robert F. Kennedy was a fierce, noble progressive warrior in the battle to create a better, more just society. Ponder his words today:
Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.